Kabul: The top commander of US and NATO
forces said on Saturday that while some al Qaeda fighters have been
searching for hideouts in rugged areas of eastern Afghanistan,
he does not think they are making a comeback inside the
"There is no question that al Qaeda has had a presence
in Afghanistan and continues to have a presence generally
assessed at less than 100 or so," Gen. David Petraeus told
reporters at the coalition's headquarters in the Afghan
But he added: "There certainly has been some
exploration for potential safe havens or sanctuaries in very
mountainous areas of Nuristan and parts of Kunar provinces.
Our intention, with our Afghan partners, is to maintain
pressure on those who are seeking to establish safe havens."
Speaking with reporters after a farewell ceremony for
NATO's top civilian representative, Mark Sedwill, Petraeus
said the recent deaths of seven UN workers in Mazar-e-Sharif
in northern Afghanistan would not affect plans for Afghan
security forces to start taking the lead for security in the
provincial capital this summer. Petraeus also confirmed that
he's in discussions that will determine his next job, but
doesn't know what it will be.
"I honestly don't know," he said. "I've obviously
watched the trial balloons floated this past week if that's
what they are."
Reporters asked him directly if he wanted to become
CIA director one of several positions being rumored in
Washington. Petraeus dodged the question, saying he didn't
think it was appropriate to comment on jobs he might be asked
He said, however, that reports of him being physically
tired were wrong. Then he challenged reporters to join him for
a run in Kabul, which is situated at about 6,000 feet (1,830
meters) above sea level.
"I am certainly not tired," he said. "If any of you
would like evidence or proof of that, I welcome you tomorrow
morning with your running shoes on and we'll see how you do
over a five-mile course at 6,000 feet (1,830 meters)."
He said he has committed himself to lead the war
through the current fighting season. There is fighting
year-round in Afghanistan, but insurgent activity typically
slows when the weather gets cold.
In his farewell speech to NATO and Afghan dignitaries,
Sedwill said that when he arrived in Afghanistan more than two
years ago, insurgents had the momentum.
"We couldn't keep up," he said. "The Afghan people and
people across the (NATO) alliance were weary and looking for a
political short-cut to the exit."
First Published: Saturday, April 09, 2011, 23:27